The ancient Kingdom of Benin lies in the tropical rain forest of West Africa, in what is present day Nigeria, and has one of the continent’s most glorious artistic legacies. In some respects, the history of Benin resembles that of China, for it is replete with dynasties of Obas (kings) who patronized artistic creation in support of their courts. The most renowned examples of Benin art are the extraordinary cast sculptures of brass. Brass has a long tradition in West Africa, being used from Mali to the coast of Guinea and from Liberia to the Lower Congo, and more than 1,000 years ago it began to be used extensively to produce “court art.” Brasscasters held a unique position among the artisans of Benin. They were a royal guild and a sort of title of nobility was granted to artisans who distinguished themselves through their work. Nevertheless, pieces were often collaborative and even today there is no way to determine whether a piece is the creation of a single master or several workers.
Benin Bronze Kings Court